Putin, IS and military preparedness: Six essential reads

Trump during the Commander in Chief Forum. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Editor’s note: The following is a collection of archival stories related to military preparedness, combating IS and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This week, presidential candidates Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump took part in the “commander-in-chief forum” on NBC-TV. The candidates answered questions about national security and military preparedness. Moderator Matt Lauer grilled Clinton about the security of her emails while she was secretary of state. Trump again took time to express his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s a look back at some of the stories The Conversation has published on foreign policy and security in recent months. Is our nation really so vulnerable? What issues are most likely to make the phone ring in the White House at 2 a.m.?

Ready for war?

Throughout the campaign, Trump has called our military unfit to confront the challenges facing it.

Bear Braumoeller of The Ohio State University took up this question in a piece that asked: Is our military overfunded or falling behind?

To fully answer that question, the political science professor examines three aspects of military capabilities: readiness, relative strength and efficacy. By some of these measures, he concludes, the military is well-prepared – but by others, not so much. Braumoeller writes:

“Thanks largely to the effects of waging simultaneous wars for over a decade, the American military is not at peak readiness. Even so, it remains the premier fighting force in the world.”

Problems with Putin?

During the forum, Trump doubled down on his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Well, he does have an 82 percent approval rating,” Trump told TV audiences. “I mean, the man has very strong control over a country. And that’s a very different system and I don’t happen to like the system. But certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”

Examining the issue of Putin’s leadership or control through the lens of Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine, Erik Nisbet of The Ohio State University and Elizabeth Stoycheff of Wayne State University ask – just how does Putin maintain popularity?

Nisbet and Stoycheff, who have studied and conducted opinion polls in Russia, write:

“Autocratic regimes like Russia realize that public opinion and legitimacy are important for maintaining power. Therefore, they try to control what information their citizens can access by tightly controlling the press and the internet.”

Cybersecurity experts from George Washington University Frank Cilluffo and Sharon Cardash consider what U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called the “brazen attacks” on U.S. institutions by Russian cyberspies.

In contrast to Trump’s admiration, Cilluffo and Cardash see cause for concern:

“Years ago, Russia was quick to recognize and integrate the potential leverage that online tools and action could offer to military doctrine, strategy and operations. But recently Russia has been honing this model of war fighting, blending electronic and real-world power into a hybrid that is more than the sum of its parts.

Stopping the Islamic State

At the forum, Clinton said: "We have to defeat ISIS. That is my highest counterterrorism goal.”

Trump was unable to provide details of his plan to defeat IS. Rather, the candidate reiterated his plan to act swiftly, unpredictably and “take the oil.”

Data from the Pew Research Center validates this focus: Terrorism was one of the top issues Americans want candidates to discuss more frequently. (In case you’re curious, the other was the economy.)

We’ve considered the terrorism group through several lenses.

Mia Bloom of Georgia State University examined the group’s troubling recruitment of children.

“It is unlikely that the children share the radical views of the adults. Rather, they have been manipulated, brainwashed or coerced. It is a trend that IS started in January 2014 and has only increased exponentially.”

Mabel Berezin of Yale considers how years of bombings and mass shootings have affected our psyches. She argues it’s time for us to admit we’re afraid.

And Simon Reich of Rutgers University, Newark, questions our preoccupation. Reich suggests other issues pose a more existential threat to our security and well-being.

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